Living in Salt Lake City I am blessed with spectacular views of the Wasatch Mountains. The steep slopes that surround the valley display the majesty of God’s creation. The breathtaking views might make us think of the ancient words of the psalmist:
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1–2, ESV)
There have been songs sung and devotionals written about this passage. However, most of the time the context is represented incorrectly. The psalmist was not thinking about the beautiful mountains and then describing God’s help. Instead, the psalmist was looking at the mountains and seeing the “high places” of the false religions mentioned multiple times int he Old Testament.
The psalmist lifted his eyes up and saw the high places where the people brought their offerings and where they sacrificed. He was saying, “My help does NOT come from those places, my help comes from the LORD.”
There is a town in India that illustrates this well, Gudibande. This town sits at the base of a large hill and on top of the hill there is a temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Shiva. Gudibande is a compound word meaning “temple stone.” The temple has been there for thousands of years, and now there is a fort surrounding the temple was built around the middle ages. This temple can be seen for miles.
The people will take curd, milk, honey, ash, bananas, or other items and hike to the top of the hill. Once to the top they will offer these items as sacrifice to Shiva. They will do this to appease her and to progress on their spiritual journey.
If you are a Christian you might shudder at the thought of climbing a hill with an offering and offering it to God in order to appease him. We might not physically climb a hill, but in many ways we live the principle out. We live on a pendulum of trying to figure out if God is angry or pleased with us.
If things are going wrong I better go to church. I better make God happy. Maybe I could give a little more. Maybe I could attend another Bible study. Perhaps I should pray a little more. I better make sure I receive communion. Perhaps I should get baptized again? Sure, we would never say this out loud, but our actions would show that this is what believe in our heart of hearts. If we just do a few more spiritual things it will make God happy and he will move his attention away from us. Doesn’t he have better thing to do anyway?
Being part of a church, studying scripture, giving sacrificially, praying more are certainly not bad. Studies show these things result in a better quality of life even if a person doesn’t believe in God. However, if we are doing things out of obligation, out of religious duty to earn favor with God they become a burden that is too heavy to carry. This usually goes in one of two ways. The burden of religious duty becomes too great and a person gives up on God, in which case their is no anchor for the soul. The person becomes adrift and they become a slave to their emotions, whichever the waves of life will take them. They other option is to pretend. This person only shows the the things that look good, wearing the right clothes and saying the right things. Everything looks good on the outside but inside they are dying. They begin to loose feeling for life.
Jesus offered a better way.
Instead of climbing a hill to reach God, God came down. Instead of making an offering to God, God became our offering.
God Came Down
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)
“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”” (John 20:27–28, ESV)
God Offered the Sacrifice
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, ESV)
“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10, ESV)
Jesus offered a better way. As Christians we no longer have to try and earn our place. Because God came to us and offered himself for us we can have confidence in God’s love for us.
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:8–11, ESV)